Pickling large cucumbers

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Late in the season I planted two cucumber plants, with no great hopes for them. In Sydney’s hot and humid climate I’ve found that cucumbers, zucchinis, etc are killed off by powdery mildew long before they produce any real crop.

This time was different, and we were quickly overwhelmed by a glut of cucumbers, some of which had grown quite large.

Sandor Katz to the rescue! His book Wild fermentation — which really kick-started the recent fermentation movement — provided a useful recipe for sour pickles.

Undeterred by the fact I didn’t have lots of tiny “pickling cucumbers” I instead cut my big cukes into thin half-discs. The recipe suggested including grape or oak leaves to keep the pickles crisp, so I scavenged some oak leaves from the convent next door.

A big jar of cucumbers, with an airlock to keep out the air

Into a big jar went the cucumbers, along with peppercorns, garlic cloves and dill flowers. I added an airlock, and left it to blip away for 3 weeks. And they behaved themselves perfectly: they didn’t bubble up and out the airlock, no mould grew on the surface, and the cucumber slices kept their shape.

Three jars of piquant cucumber slices

We ate some slices today on a ham sandwich, and they are delightfully tart. Another win for Sandor, thanks!

Home-made ploughman’s lunch

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This super-simple no-knead bread was the star of the meal.
This super-simple no-knead bread was the star of the meal.

With such a mild winter, it seemed like the perfect time to have friends around for Sunday lunch.

Like all our meals for guests, we try to feature our locally grown produce as much as possible. Today it was a home-made ploughman’s lunch.

Store bought ingredients:

  • deli-sliced ham
  • various cheeses

Home-grown and home-made ingredients:

  • freshly baked no-knead bread
  • beetroot, feta and walnut salad
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • “Australia Day” chutney (zucchini, apple, onion and saltanas)
  • cucumber relish
  • savory pickled cherries
  • pickled burr gherkins
  • freshly-picked mustard leaves

We then followed that up with a steamed marmalade pudding, using home-made marmalade.

This is the life of our inner-city farm… 🙂

The spread of food, laid out on the table, ready to eat!
The spread of food, laid out on the table, ready to eat!

Summer crop of pickles and chutneys

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Our summer harvest, converted into jars of pickles and chutneys.
Our summer harvest, converted into jars of pickles and chutneys.

It’s been a hot summer in Sydney, with some much-needed rain after an extended dry period. So as usual, the summer glut of produce overwhelmed our immediate needs.

One of my favourite activities is converting what we grow into jars of pickles, chutneys and the like. This is what we produced this summer:

  • Australia Day chutney
  • cucumber relish (two ways)
  • pickled beetroot
  • pickled bur gherkins
  • pickled cherries (two ways)
  • tomato chilli pickle
  • tomato & onion relish
  • tomato passata
  • tomato & tamarind chutney

By my count, that’s 42 jars, not including the half-dozen we’ve already given away or used. That’s not bad considering that half of our main raised beds were attacked by roots, and therefore struggling to produce anything…

Pickled bur gherkins

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Fifty-five bur gherkins, all in a pile
Fifty-five bur gherkins, all in a pile

There is a great love in gherkins in the household, for adding to burgers and the like. So when I saw that Digger’s Club had seeds for “West Indian Gherkins”, I jumped at the chance.

The plants grew very vigorously, taking over a whole garden bed. But the fruit was odd to the say the least. Some head-scratching and Googling revealed that they weren’t the typical French gherkins, but something called a bur gherkin (also known as West Indian Gherkin or West Indian Gourd).

Native to Africa, these sure are strange looking things, and spiky to boot! Even odder, if you leave them too long on the vine, they suddenly grow out to become something that looks like a WWI grenade:

Oops, left some of the gherkins on the vine too long!
Oops, left some of the gherkins on the vine too long!

Apparently they taste and pickle just like a normal gherkin. So with 55 picked in a single session, we’ve prepared three jars of “Kosher Pickles”. We’re going to let them steep for a month or so, and then we’ll report back on the taste! 😉

Three jars of pickled bur gherkins
Three jars of pickled bur gherkins

PS. the keen-eyed reader will have spotted our new jar labels, with our brand-new Lewisham House logo. More on this in a future post, and we’ll get the logo added to the website when we have a chance.

Update on our food forest

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Apple tree growing happily in our food forest

About six months ago, I cleared a overgrown mass of privet in the convent’s land behind our house to create a new food forest. Apple trees were ordered and planted, along with a bunch of other fruit trees.

This quickly became the first round of a multi-year war against weeds. With the warm, wet weather, the privet was immediately replaced by half a dozen varieties of invasive weeds, which are now several metres high.

Starting at the near end, I’ve been countering this by laying down newspaper, and piles of mulch (kindly donated by a local tree trimming company). A variety of plants have been established as part of the ‘apple tree guild’:

  • comfrey
  • lavender
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • oregano

I’ve also been planting a number of dominant vegetables to act as ground cover:

  • multiple types of pumpkin (normal and heirloom varieties)
  • watermelons
  • rockmelons
  • cucumbers

It’s clear that this will take some time, years most likely. Still, it’s a good weekend project…

The big surprise has been the hundreds of cherry tomato plants that have come up amongst the weeds. We’re not sure whether these came from the neighbours chucking tomatoes over their back fence, or from seeds being dropped by birds.

We’re not complaining either way, as we’ve already harvested 2-3kg of cherry tomatoes for ‘free’, having done nothing but watch the plants grow. There’s probably 10-20kg of tomatoes yet to grow and ripen, if we can find the time to pick them…

PS. in the end, the food forest is likely to become a ‘convent garden’ rather than a community garden. I’ll be the ‘head convent gardener’, with a produce-sharing arrangement in place. A good win-win outcome! 🙂